"It Was Always There" - Yael DanieliDocument Transcript
It Was Always There
Several interacting arcs of events and people trace the development of my interest in
trauma. The first is my growing up on a Kibbutz, then in Tel-Aviv, under British mandate prior
to Israelâs birth in 1948, then through the building of Israel and the ensuing wars. I remember
clearly the sense of extended family and community in the Kibbutz in particular and in the
country in general; the total idealism and willing sacrifice, commitment and determination, and
joy in building our own state. But the British mandate meant, for example, that we couldnât have
lights on at night for fear of attacks and that, in a country where the sun doesnât set often until
after 8:00 p.m., a curfew did not allow us to be outdoors from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. I still carry
the legacy of these curfews, the sense of oppression and resentment, the small ways we children
rebelled against the British mandate, our attempts to mask anxiety and fear, and our ever-
strengthened commitment to become, in time, almost characterological. I also remember being
awakened on a New Years Eve by British soldiers singing Auld Lang Syne. My mother told me
that they were lonely and missed their wives, children, and parents, which helped to humanize
During the same time, news of the Holocaust was seeping in. Almost everyone around
me had come to Palestine from Europe as a pioneer, leaving family members behind. Disbelief
and attempted denial gave way to shock, palpable concern, dread and anticipatory grief. Some
survivors who tried to reach the shores of Israel were re-interned by the British in concentration
camps in Cyprus. Others who reached Israel were sent immediately to fight her War of
Independence, and were killed. Most were welcomed to share in building their new, free land
for the Jewish people, where such a slaughter will ânever happen again.â Intended as a powerful
positive message, ânever againâ also concealed disdain and contempt for, and (related) guilt
toward the victims and the survivors (Danieli, 1982a) that existed at least until the Eichmann trial
in 1962. Since my childhood, survivors were my teachers of trauma and its aftermath.
Complexity was present at all times: The themes of rebirth, renewal, resilience and hope;
danger, vulnerability, and sadness but never without humor and joy, sometimes to the detriment
of necessary mourning. But âYom Hashoah,â the national annual day of collective observance
and commemoration rituals, has united all citizens in shared grief and sorrow. This complexity
foretold the understanding, also in my framework (see below), that vulnerability and resilience
exist simultaneously rather than being mutually exclusive, as some in the field have held.
Then came the âaliahâ (immigration) of refugees from the Arab countries. We were
recruited, as teenagers, to help them integrate into the culture. For example, my classmates and I
taught refugee women how to use a sewing machine. Israelâs wisdom in involving the children
in the upbringing of the country and appreciating its multiculturalism cannot be overstated.
Many of these memories are not in themselves traumatic or traumatogenic, but they did
shape my thinking, consciously and unconsciously, about post-trauma (re)building of societies
that I was to become involved in later in South Africa, Bosnia and Rwanda, among others.
The more direct intellectual arc began when I chose the phenomenology of hope as the
initial topic of my doctoral dissertation at New York University. (Ironically, it was my Christian
doctoral advisor, Robert R. Holt, who reminded me that hope was the Israeli anthem.) For this
study, I conducted in-depth interviews with people whose hope had been challenged in situations
ranging from the seemingly trivial (missing a bus) to the extreme (concentration camps, terminal
illness, war imprisonment).
I remember colleagues uniformly discouraging me from interviewing Holocaust
survivors: âThey donât talk to anybody.â This proved to be as far from my experience as
possible. Typically, I would come to a survivorâs home (to study people in their own
environment) after work. They would seat me in the kitchen, and they would talk nonstop,
sometimes until the next morning. They had been waiting for someone who would listen.
Every survivor, without exception, said that no one would listen to or believe their
Holocaust experiences. This pervasive postwar societal reaction led them to conclude that no
one who had not gone through the same experience could understand, and thus to opt for silence.
Their children recounted similar experiences. Even more striking and shattering to me as an
idealistic graduate student of clinical psychology, they said that psychotherapists too would not
listen, thereby participating in what I consequently termed the conspiracy of silence.
My pained outrage at the survivorsâ resulting sense of isolation and betrayal has been
channeled into all aspects of my professional work since: research, clinical, theoretical,
teaching/training, organizational and advocacy.
As a researcher, I focused on studying the phenomenon of the conspiracy of silence, its
origins, meanings, and aftermath. That resulted in two main bodies of literature. The first was
therapistsâ difficulties in treating survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and Their Children, or
countertransference (for lack of a better word then), which became the new topic of my doctoral
dissertation (Danieli, 1982a). I was motivated first by my realization that whereas society has a
moral obligation to share its membersâ pain, psychotherapists and researchers have, in addition, a
professional contractual obligation. When we fail to listen, explore, understand, and help, we too
inflict the âtrauma after the traumaâ (Rappaport, 1968), or âThe âsecond injuryâ to Victimsâ
(Symonds, 1980) by maintaining the conspiracy of silence. I also believed that studying
experienced, well-analyzed, introspective professionals would provide insights into the larger
societal, and bystandersâ, conspiracy of silence.
In order of frequency, some of the major categories of countertransference phenomena
systematically examined in my study were:
1. Various modes of defense against listening to Holocaust experiences and against
therapistsâ inability to contain their intense emotional reactions (e.g., numbing, denial,
avoidance, distancing, clinging to professional role, reduction to method and/or theory);
2. Affective reactions such as bystanderâs guilt; rage, with its variety of objects; dread and
horror; shame and related emotions (e.g., disgust and loathing); grief and mourning; âme tooâ;
sense of bond; privileged voyeurism; and
3. Specific relational context issues such as parent-child relationship; victim/liberator;
viewing the survivor as hero; and attention and attitudes toward Jewish identity.
These themes are reported, described, illustrated, and discussed in detail in a series of
articles (Danieli, 1980, 1984, 1988a, 1994). The findings include a comparison between
psychotherapists who were survivors or children of survivors and those who were not. Many of
the reactions were found to be to patients' Holocaust stories rather than to their behavior. The
unusual uniformity of psychotherapists' reactions suggested that they were in response to the
Holocaust, the one fact that all the otherwise different patients have in common. I therefore
suggested that it is appropriate to name them countertransference reactions to the Holocaust (the
trauma event/s), rather than to the patients themselves, and noted their similarity âto alexithymia,
anhedonia, and their concomitants and components which, according to Krystal, characterize
survivors" (Danieli, 1981, p. 201). Extending the term to reflect that therapists' difficulties in
treating other victim/survivors populations may similarly have their roots in the nature of their
victimization, I suggested the term event countertransference.
At the same time, in an initial session, SL, a frail, agitated young man intermittently
interrupted his incoherent rambling with a refrain-like phrase "my mother gave me gray milk," that
not only became a leitmotif of his therapy but also formed an indelible metaphor portending the
development of my thinking and understanding of the what and the how of transmission of the
effects of the Holocaust in particular and of trauma in general. His "very old." father was "from
Auschwitz," the sole survivor of a family that had included a wife and two sons who perished in
the ovens. SL was named after his murdered half-brothers. His father met SL's 17-year younger
"beautiful" mother upon arriving in the United States. SL believed that, although American-born,
his mother must have absorbed ashes from his father, and passed them to him through her milk.
For years, as myriad survivors and their children attempted to break the conspiracy of silence with
me, I relived with them that alarming sense combined of acute pain, flooding helplessness and
outrage, particularly when conceiving their pain as "Hitler's posthumous victory."
The other body of literature was on the dialectical relationship between the aftermath of
the Holocaust and post-Holocaust conspiracy of silence as it affected survivors (and their
children) throughout their life cycle, particularly in times of even normal transitions which they
nonetheless tend to experience as a return of or further trauma. This kind of analysis requires a
lifelong and multigenerational perspective, and an in-depth exploration of processes such as
mourning, separation, survivorâs and bystanderâs guilt, rage and shame . I am grateful to Helen
Block-Lewis, Judith Hermanâs mother, for encouraging me to do such explorations with
survivorâs guilt, and Henry Krystal for dialogues on the survivorsâ aging process.
As a clinician I reached out to other psychotherapists to develop the first program since
World War II to provide psychological help for Holocaust survivors and their children. We
established the Group Project for Holocaust Survivors and their Children (GPHSC) to counteract
their profound sense of isolation and alienation and compensate for their neglect by the mental
health professions. Formally begun in 1975 by volunteer psychotherapists in the New York City
area, led by Lisette Lamon-Fink and myself, GPHSC recognized the vital importance of mutual
and self-help and has capitalized on group and community modalities from its inception.
Survivors could at last talk about their memories and experiences, explore with each other and
comprehend the long-term consequences in their lives of the Holocaust and the conspiracy of
silence that followed it, and share their feelings and current concerns (Danieli, 1982a). Group
and community therapeutic modalities also affirm the central role of âwe-nessâ and the need for
a collective search for meaningful response (Danieli, 1985c) and help rebuild a sense of extended
family and community, which were lost during the Holocaust. In addition, they have helped
psychotherapists compensate for and modulate their own difficulties in treating survivors and
children of survivors. Whereas a therapist alone may feel unable to provide a âholding
environmentâ (Winnicott, 1965) for his or her patientâs feelings, the group as a unit is able to.
The group functions as an ideal absorptive entity for abreaction and catharsis of emotions,
especially negative ones that are otherwise experienced as uncontainable.
The Projectâs goals, which are preventive as well as reparative, are predicated on two
major assumptions: (1) that integration of Holocaust experiences into the totality of the
survivorsâ and their childrenâs lives, and awareness of the meaning of post-Holocaust
adaptational styles (see below) will be liberating from the trauma and facilitate mental health
and self-actualization for both; and (2) that awareness of transmitted intergenerational processes
will inhibit transmission of pathology to succeeding generations.
In the context of teaching/training, it is important to emphasize that event
countertransference reactions may inhibit professionals even from studying, certainly from
correctly diagnosing and treating, the effects of trauma. Recognizing the grave need for training,
the GPHSC has provided short- and long-term Countertransference and Training seminars and
individual supervision to professionals since 1975. Regarding event countertransferences as
dimensions of a professionalâs inner, or intrapsychic, conspiracy of silence about the trauma
allows us to explore and confront these reactions to the trauma events prior to and independent of
the therapeutic encounter with the victim/survivor patient. To work through event
countertransference, I gradually developed an exercise process (Danieli, 1994) that has been
proven helpful in numerous workshops, training institutes, âdebriefingâ of "front liners,â short-
and long-term seminars, and in consultative, short- and long-term supervisory relationships
around the world. Ameliorating these reactions in bystanders may lessen the societal conspiracy
of silence as well.
The giants in the field of the psychiatric effects of the Holocaust on its survivors, the
originators of some of the central concepts of our thinking to this day, the survivorâs syndrome,
survivorâs guilt, psychic numbing among other -- Henry Krystal, William Niederland, Leo
Eitinger, Edie de Wind, Robert Jay Lifton -- most influenced and generously taught me when no
other means of training existed. When I entered the field, indeed the only diagnostic term used
was the âsurvivorâs syndrome,â and it was applied rather indiscriminately to all cases of
survivors, even extended to the expectation that children of survivors would manifest a single
transmitted "child-of-survivor syndrome" (e.g., Phillips, 1978). What I saw were heterogeneous,
life-long and intergenerational familial styles of adaptation. Choosing the family rather than the
individual as the unit of analysis, I delineated a typology of four post-traumatic adaptational
styles: The victim families, the fighter families, the numb families and families of âthose who
made it.â The heterogeneity of responses of families of survivors to their Holocaust and post-
Holocaust life experiences, beyond notions of the survivorâs syndrome and of post-traumatic
stress disorder, emphasizes the need to guard against expecting all victim/survivors to behave in
a uniform fashion and to match appropriate therapeutic interventions to particular forms of
The multigenerational work culminated in the publication in 1998 of the âInternational
Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Traumaâ for which I commissioned a worldwide
network of researchers, clinicians and scholars from 32 populations around the world, many for
the first time, to contribute. They included the Nazi Holocaust, World War II, genocide, the
Vietnam war; intergenerational effects revealed after the fall of Communism, in indigenous
peoples, following repressive regimes, crime and urban violence, infectious and life-threatening
diseases, and the emerging biology of intergenerational trauma.
The book established the universal existence of intergenerational transmission of trauma
and its effects and validated the concerns shared by many experts. In the past, multigenerational
transmission had been treated as a secondary phenomenon, perhaps because it is not as obviously
dramatic as the horrific images of traumatized people. Recoiling when viewing such images,
particularly of victimized children today, the mind does not take in that children not yet born could
inherit a legacy and memories not of their own but that will shape their lives nevertheless. That the
same images may shape the lives of generations to come, sometimes unconsciously, often by
design, is even harder to comprehend and accept.
Given a life-time Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rate of 7.8% in the US general
population (Kessler, et al., 1995) it is a relatively common psychiatric disorder; even if only a
minority is or will be involved in parenting, the number of children upon whom intergenerational
effects will have an impact is enormous. In other groups and societies, where the rates of trauma
exposure are much higher, an even greater proportion of the population is affected, with
consequent intergenerational implications.
Applying the lessons from my work with survivors and children of survivors of the Nazi
Holocaust, I have expanded to victim/survivors of other genocides and human-made massive
trauma. I served as consultant to South Africaâs Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to
the Rwandan government, among others, on reparations for victims. It grew to working with
Rwandaâs victims. I have also led a long-term project in the former Yugoslavia which I had
named âPromoting a Dialogueâ and the local participants named much more appropriately,
âDemocracy Cannot Be Built with the Hands of Broken Souls.â
IBUKA, the Rwandan umbrella organization for victims of the genocide, asked me in
1999 to help bring Holocaust survivors there to âteach [us] how to live after death.â This request
led to the historic first meeting of all Holocaust and genocide groups in Kigali, Rwanda in
November, 2001, where we created together the International Network of Survivors and Friends
of Survivors of Holocaust and Genocide. Closing the meeting I suggested that one of the lessons
I have learned is to drop the "n" in never again. The headlines of today's newspapers tell us why.
As a theorist, I struggled to delineate the nature and encompass the extent of the
destruction of catastrophic massive trauma, and to account for its different contextual dimensions
and levels, and the diversity in and in response to it. I concluded that only a multidimensional,
multidisciplinary integrative framework would be adequate. I therefore termed it Trauma and the
Continuity of Self: A Multidimensional, Multidisciplinary, Integrative (TCMI) Framework and
used it to guide mutual collaborative work with numerous experts in all related disciplines. A
summary of the TCMI framework follows (Danieli, 1998, 2003).
An individual's identity involves a complex interplay of multiple systems, including the
biological and intrapsychic; the interpersonalâfamilial, social, communal; the ethnic, cultural,
ethical, religious, spiritual, natural; the educational/occupational; the material/economic, legal,
environmental, political, national and international. These systems coexist along the time
dimension, creating a continuous sense of life from past through present to the future. Ideally,
one should have free psychological access to and movement within all these identity systems.
Each system is the focus of one or more disciplines that may overlap and interact, such as
biology, psychology, sociology, economics, law, anthropology, religious studies, and
philosophy. Each discipline has its own views of human nature and it is those that inform what
the professional thinks and does. The (TCMI) framework will thus help guard against the
reductionistic impulse to find unidimensional explanations for such complex phenomena.
Trauma Exposure and "Fixity"
Trauma exposure can cause a rupture, a possible regression, and a state of being "stuck"
in this free flow, which Danieli (1998) has called âfixity.â The intent, time, place, duration,
extent and meaning of the trauma for the individual and the survival strategies used to adapt to it
will determine the degree of rupture and the severity of the fixity. Fixity can be intensified in
particular by the conspiracy of silence, the survivors' reaction to the societal indifference,
avoidance, repression, and denial of the survivors' trauma experiences.
The conspiracy of silence is detrimental to the survivors' familial and sociocultural
(re)integration by intensifying their already profound sense of isolation and mistrust of society.
It further impedes the possibility of their intrapsychic integration and healing, and makes the task
of mourning their losses impossible. Fixity may increase vulnerability to further trauma and may
also render immediate reactions to trauma (e.g., acute stress disorder) chronic. Particularly in the
extreme, it may become life-long (Danieli, 1997) post-trauma/victimization adaptational styles
(Danieli, 1985), when survival strategies generalize to a way of life and become an integral part
of one's personality, repertoire of defense, or character armor.
These effects may also become intergenerational in that they affect families, prior and
succeeding generations. In addition, they may affect groups, communities, societies and nations.
Other researchers (Rich, 1982; Klein, 1987; and Sigal and Weinfeld, 1989) have validated my
descriptions (Danieli, 1985) of at least four differing post-Holocaust adaptational styles of
The recognition of the possible long-term impact of trauma on oneâs personality and
adaptation and the intergenerational transmission of victimization-related pathology still await
explicit inclusion in future editions of the diagnostic nomenclature. Until they are included, the
behavior of some survivors, and some children of survivors, may be misdiagnosed, its etiology
misunderstood, and its treatment, at best, incomplete. This framework allows evaluation of each
system's degree of rupture or resilience, and thus informs the choice and development of optimal
multilevel intervention. Repairing the rupture and thereby freeing the flow rarely means "going
back to normal." Clinging to the possibility of "returning to normal" may indicate denial of the
survivors' experiences and thereby fixity.
Integration of the trauma must take place in all of life's relevant systems and cannot be
accomplished by the individual alone. Systems can change and recover independently of other
systems. Rupture repair may be needed in all systems of the survivor, in his or her community
and nation, and in their place in the international community. To fulfill the reparative and
preventive goals of trauma recovery, perspective, and integration through awareness and
containment must be established so that one's sense of continuity and belongingness is restored.
To be healing, even self-actualizing, the integration of traumatic experiences must be examined
from the perspective of the totality of the trauma survivor's family and community members.
The proposed diagnoses of âcomplex PTSDâ (Herman, 1992) and âdisorder of extreme
stress not otherwise specifiedâ (DESNOS; Roth, et al., 1997) that were considered for but not
included in DSM-IV (APA, 1994) represent attempts to go beyond the basic 17 symptoms of
PTSD and associated features. Although several of the DESNOS descriptions, such as
survivorâs guilt, are included as associated features of PTSD, many believe that it is a construct
in its own right. Similarly to Danieli (see the TCMI Framework above), the descriptions of
complex PTSD and DESNOS emphasize profound personality changes following repeated
exposure to man-made traumata; these are allowed in the current DSM only as associated
features but not as a distinct diagnosis, and recognize alterations in the survivorâs world
assumptions and values.
In each of these instances, however, the entity represents a hybrid that mixes aspects
typically conceptualized as belonging to Axis I (clinical syndromes defined by the presence of
specific symptom constellations) and Axis II (personality disordersâ"enduring pattern of inner
experience and behavior that âŚ is pervasive and inflexible âŚ is stable over time, and leads to
distress or impairmentâ [DSM-IV, p. 629]). The ICD-10 (WHO, 1992) category of âenduring
personality change after catastrophic experienceâ is more consistent with my notion of post-
trauma/victimization adaptational styles, but its description focuses on adjustment rather than
adaptation, and is far narrower than mine. Additional systematic research is needed to document
in detail the long-term course of the aftermath of repeated exposure to man-made traumata.
Organizationally, I have been privileged to take part in the forefront of two pioneer
organizations representing differing yet related perspectives on victims: Victimology was born
out of criminology to balance the rights of the victims with those of the accused or offender, and
led to the birth in 1979 of the World Society of Victimology. The modern history of
traumatology, with its focus on the psychosocial, emotional, and psychobiological reactions to
traumatic events, is a 1980s offshoot of mental health, in particular, the Scientific Committee on
the Mental Health Needs of Victims of the World Federation for Mental Health, and led to the
birth of the (very quickly, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies in 1985, a mere five
years after the diagnosis of PTSD.
As one of the founders of the ISTSS, and its third (1988-1989) President, this society has
been an integral part of my life for the last 20 years. Having the Society represent as many
victim populations and concerns, become the heretofore absent voice of teaching/training on the
effects of trauma, and universalize its vision as much as possible were three of my missions.
Having established the Chaim Danieli Young Professional Award for excellence in service and
research, in memory of my father, to encourage them in furthering their work, as President, I
commissioned over 200 members of the Society to contribute to the Initial Report of The (1989)
Presidential Task Force on Curriculum, Education, and Training (see Danieli and Krystal, 1989).
This Report contained model curricula in psychiatry, psychology, social work, nursing, creative
arts therapy, clergy and media; organizations, institutions and public health; paraprofessionals
and other professionals; and undergraduate education. The report was adopted by the UN
(E/AC.57/1990/NGO.3). I also established the ISTSSâ consultative status with the UN,
initiated the concept of world meetings, and served as the International Chair of its first world
meeting in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in June, 1992.
I view informed advocacy as teaching extended to the world (my work has been
translated into at least 12 languages). Sometimes, however, I think of an effective lobbyist as a
mixture of a missionary and a pest.
In terms of advocacy, my efforts to bring what I had learned and was continuously
learning to the international community in a more formal way began when, in the early 1980s,
Eugene Brody, then Secretary-General of the World Federation for Mental Health, asked me to
represent the Federation at the United Nations. My international self was definitely tempted.
However, being Israeli, I doubted that I could have much impact at the UN. I told him that I
would give it six months and, if proved effective, I would continue. My first involvement in the
NGO world at the UN led to serving as vice-chair of the Executive Committee on Non-
Governmental Organizations associated with the UN Department of Public Information and
Chair of its Publications Committee.
Since that time, I have worked at and with the United Nations - with varying degrees of
satisfaction and frustration â through informed advocacy to bring mental health and trauma
concerns to the UN, and the UN to the fields of mental health and trauma.
As a founding member, later Chair, of the WFMH Scientific Committee on the Mental
Health Needs of Victims, initially under the guiding wing of Irene Melup of the then UN Crime
Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch, and with the continuous friendship of Roger Clark of
Rutgers University School of Law, I have participated in developing, drafting, promoting,
adapting and implementing all UN instruments relating to victims. Most notably, these have been
the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power
(40/34) and all subsequent resolutions related to it; Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right
to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law
and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law; and the establishment of and the
victims' role in the International Criminal Court, which is its most unique feature and most
important contribution to international law. My lawyer friends say that I have drafted more laws
than most lawyers.
I have served as Consultant to the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
Branch and on the Board of its International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council and as
Vice-chair of Executive Committee of the NGOs on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. I
have also served as a consultant to UNICEF, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights and various governments and media organizations, including Associated Press
and CNN, on trauma and victim/survivorsâ rights and care.
A major goal of all of these efforts has been to assert the commitment of the international
community to victims; to combat impunity and adopt provisions under law for justice and
redress, acknowledging the victimsâ suffering, and securing restitution, compensation, and
rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition for them.
In the following I summarize necessary components for healing in the wake of massive
trauma. They emerged from interviews with survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, Japanese and
Armenian Americans, victims from Argentina and Chile, and professionals working with them,
both in and outside their countries in my study for the expert group drafting the Basic Principles
and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of
International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law
(Rev. 1 October, 2004) for the UN Commission of Human Rights. The components are
presented as goals and recommendations, organized from the (A) individual, (B) societal, (C)
national, and (D) International perspectives, as follows:
A. Reestablishment of the victims' equality of value, power, esteem (dignity), the basis of
reparation in the society or nation. This is accomplished by, a. compensation, both real and
symbolic; b. restitution; c. rehabilitation; d. commemoration.
B. Relieving the victim's stigmatization and separation from society. This is accomplished by, a.
commemoration; b. memorials to heroism; c. empowerment; d. education.
C. Repairing the nations' ability to provide and maintain equal value under law
and the provisions of justice. This is accomplished by, a. prosecution; b. apology; c. securing
public records; d. education; e. creating national mechanisms for monitoring, conflict resolution
and preventive interventions.
D. Asserting the commitment of the international community to combat impunity and provide and
maintain equal value under law and the provisions of justice and redress. This is accomplished
by, a. creating ad hoc and permanent mechanisms for prosecution (e.g., ad hoc Tribunals and
ultimately an International Criminal Court); b. securing public records; c. education; d. creating
international mechanisms for monitoring, conflict resolution and preventive interventions.
I have also edited, for and on behalf of the United Nations, three books. International
Responses to Traumatic stress (Danieli, Rodley & Weisaeth, 1996) grew out of the appalling
realization of the global scope of trauma and victimization and the necessity of international
endeavors on behalf of the victims. For the first time, UN and NGO contributions were treated
equally, emphasizing the essential partnership between them. The UN book on the 50th
anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, examined from the victims'
standpoint; and, âSharing the Front Line and the Back HillsâŚâ (Danieli, 2002), addressed the
costs paid by protectors and providers -- peacekeepers, humanitarian aid and justice workers, and
the media -- in the midst of crisis, and the responsibilities of their organizations to train and
support them before, during and after their missions. (As tragic ironies sometimes do, that book
came out on September 13, 2001, and proved directly relevant to many of the caregivers in my
home, New York.) Both the advocacy process of creating these books, and the books themselves,
have significantly affected the UNâs language, programs and policies and that of many other
organizations around the world.
Since September 11, 2001, in collaboration with over 260 colleagues around the world
and throughout the United States, I have focused on two new books related to terrorism. The
first, in keeping with my international perspective, is The Trauma of Terrorism: Sharing
Knowledge and Shared Care, An International Handbook. The second, On the Ground After
September 11: Mental Health Responses and Practical Knowledge Gained, for me, is a love gift
to New York, which has always excited me with its richness, diversity and culture. I have loved
living here and being a New Yorker. On September 11, for the first time, I felt toward New York
as I have felt my whole life toward Israel and later toward the countless victims around the world
I have tried to help: Protective, caring, and committed.
All my books were intended to be used in both practical ways, to relieve and prevent
suffering and for informed advocacy, as well as to contribute to traumatic stress studies. Authors
were recruited from around the world and from many different disciplines, reflecting, in part,
various stages of anguish in confronting their subjects, as well as different ways of knowing and
means of access. Many belong to the populations they write about, which makes harder their
struggle to create enough distance for writing, yet adds authenticity to the words they give voice to.
Starting with my human rights book, I began including among the chapters âvoicesâ of actual
victim/survivors and their protectors and providers, which not only render the material far more
accessible, but also acknowledges that they are the master experts of their experiences, and are
partners in our mutual journey of discovery.
I am grateful to the more than 500 authors who contributed to my books alone, and to my
numerous supervisees, who enriched my understanding. They augment what I have learned
from my most important teachers: My patients.
One of my motherâs greatest gifts to me was to make history totally alive. The love of
history and the commitment to learn from it instilled by both my parents have been a major force
in my life. I often wonder whether it led, at least in part, to my interest in multigenerational
legacies of trauma, which integrates the psychological and historical perspectives. They also
inspired a consuming curiosity about the world and a sense of being a citizen of it.
Within the field of traumatic stress, I have found it satisfying that many of my concepts,
including the conspiracy of silence and multigenerational transmission of trauma, have become
part of the language, and that many concepts from the mental health field in general, and from
the field of trauma in particular, have become an integral part of the language at the UN. But
much more work needs to be done, especially in terms of international collaboration.
I belong to the generation that preceded PTSD. After it was adopted, most everyone
seems to have become addicted to the diagnosis. Increasingly, colleagues have been discovering
that PTSD did not encompass many of the survivorsâ essential experiences. In attempting to
correct the situation, including the possible inappropriateness of PTSD for non-western cultures
(Engdahl, 2005), the field seems to be returning to the fuller picture that had been provided by
the survivorâs syndrome. I would like future trauma scholars to develop further, in research as
well as in clinical and theoretical work, both my concept of post-trauma adaptational styles and
the heterogeneous typology I have elaborated.
Colleagues like Brian Engdahl, Bill Schlenger and John Fairbank have been my generous
scientific advisors, with whom I spent numerous hours seeking to bridge the gap between the
clinical and the research perspectives. It is essential that the field continues in this direction,
particularly in fully recognizing the time dimension and the long-term and multigenerational
perspectives and implications in its studies. But it still pains me that what we have learned from
the aftermath of the Holocaust is not naturally referred to or included in the thinking and in many
writings in the field. I hope this will be remedied.
Most importantly, our task must be to do our utmost to teach policy makers, be it locally,
nationally and/or internationally, and impress upon them that the consequences of decisions they
frequently make with short-term considerations in mind can not only be lifelong but also
multigenerational and are in stark contrast to their rhetoric of making the world a safer and better
place for our generation, and for generations to come. That the issue is not only how and how
many resources they choose to commit to victimsâ care, but it is also the untold multidimensional
costs -- economic, psychosocial, educational, political, to name but a few -- over time and down
through generations that will be incurred if they fail to provide for them.
Everything I have learned began with victims/survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and
continued with victims/survivors of genocide and other massive traumata all over the world, such
as South Africans, Cambodians, Bosnians, Rwandans, and indigenous people. To have been
both a witness and a participant in the search for truth about humanity's unremitting shame and
harm has left me feeling privileged. Our work calls on us to confront, with our patients and
within ourselves, extraordinary human experiences. This confrontation is profoundly humbling
in that at all times these experiences challenge our view of the world and test the limits of our
humanity (Danieli, 1994b, p. 371). But taking the painful risk of bearing witness does not mean
that the world will listen, learn, change, and become a better place.
I would like to dedicate this chapter, as I did the Lifetime Achievement award, and the 5th
meeting of the Society when I was its President, to all victim/survivors everywhere, whose simple
human dignity, moral courage, and profound generosity enable us -- the professionals -- to reach
beyond the veil of rage and tears to touch the truth without which no one can be free.
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